eBay's 'Garden' Grows New Features

Online auction giant says its "Garden by eBay" is a way to open up its innovation process to testing and feedback by users. First up: a streamlined search feature.

In the rush to compete, tech companies sometimes ship faulty or not-ready-for-primetime products and services. Cynics will argue that buyers are too often unpaid beta testers for these faulty products. No company wants the bad publicity that comes with a failed design (Toyota anyone?), and certainly it's hard to test for every use case scenario.

Public beta testing and other programs designed to give customers early looks at products have been around for years and benefit both the producer and the consumer, with Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) among the most aggressive companies via its Google Labs.

Now eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY) is the latest to offer its own twist. Garden by eBay is a new site that lets users test and interact with new features the online auction site has under development. The site is also designed to solicit feedback and new ideas for products and features users want to see eBay add.

The first "seed" to sprout from eBay's Garden is "streamlined search" which, as the name implies, is designed to make it simpler to browse and view search results. With streamlined search users can compare auction and Buy It Now listings side-by-side, refine their searches with fewer clicks, get an at-a-glance view of an item's name, price and format and view same-screen pop-up windows for item detail, the company said.

eBay said it expects to improve streamlined search based on user feedback before releasing it as a standard part of eBay. Anything that helps users better navigate the millions of items at the world's biggest online site is bound to be welcome.

"The new Garden by eBay represents a new collaborative conversation with the eBay community -- a chance to listen to their thoughts on upcoming features, and to bring them closer to our own innovation process," Christopher Payne, eBay's vice president of search, said in a statement. "And by seeding the Garden with streamlined search, we're asking for the community's input on improving one of the most important areas of eBay.com."

Diamond Ring Designer, launched earlier, is now also "growing" in the Garden. eBay is encouraging users to test and provide feedback for the design-your-own-custom-ring site.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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